I’ll never forget where I first learned about the power of presence. It was in a hospice care facility in east Texas where my sweet grandmother, Jo, was dying. My grandfather, her husband of 58 years, never left her bedside. He comforted her, supported her, and helped ready her for eternity with the simple power of his presence. And after she died, I was humbled and grateful to learn that my consistent presence had comforted, supported, and helped him in that terribly difficult time.
In Psalm 139 King David celebrates this kind of presence. Only he was not writing about a human companion, he was writing about a holy One.
Through all of David’s vast life experience—in his triumphant highs and dejected lows—he found that God never left his side. Here is how David described it in one of his famous Psalms:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. — Psalm 139:7-10
David knew that God was always with him in every moment, at every turn, and in every place. And it gave him great comfort. Thankfully, David’s experience is not an isolated one. The entire Bible testifies to God’s continued presence with his people.
In Genesis, he physically walked with Adam and Eve (3:8) while in Revelation he promised to do the same with us! (21:3) In between those two books God told everyone from Moses to Matthew that he would always be with them, “even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
This Biblical truth not only brings comfort in our time of need, but it also provides a clear model for how we can walk with others in their time of need.
Our Presence is God’s Presence
In one of the most excruciating and terrifying times of my life, God sent his comforting presence in the form of two dear friends: Elle and Keenan. They sat with me, cried with me, and prayed with me through a very dark time. It was in their presence that I felt God’s presence.
Often in life, what people most need is the ministry of presence. They don’t need our money or advice, our preaching or pity. They simply need the presence of Christ incarnated through the Body of Christ.
This was the kind of ministry that Jesus asked of his disciples. The night before he was murdered, while he was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” Jesus made a simple request of his closest friends: “Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38) At his darkest moment he wanted their presence.
This is the same sort of ministry God asks of us today. In a beautiful and succinct description of how to be present and love one another, the apostle Paul tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) In the best of times and the worst of times it is a gift to be with one another. And by the power of the Holy Spirit in us, God is present.
There are few things that strengthen and heal us like the presence of another. Psalm 139, along with the rest of Scripture, gives us great confidence that in all our moments—joy or mourning, happiness or grief—God is near and we can experience and provide for others the mysterious and miraculous power of his presence.
When was a time you received or gave the gift of God’s presence by simply being present?